The wonders of whale poo and what causes whales to stress out

A new study supports the hypothesis that noises from maritime traffic actually do induce stress in whales. For a time after the attack of the Twin Towers in New York City, fewer ships traveled in the area and researchers noticed that the stress levels of whales dropped dramatically. In an article from Discovery News, it was noted that some of the ocean vessels emit the same low-frequency wavelengths as those used by baleen whales to communicate. To adapt, some animals have changed the frequency or volume of their songs.

You might be wondering how in the world they measured stress in whales? They did it by training dogs to sniff out whale feces, which floats. After collecting the feces, researchers measured the levels of a stress hormone called glucocorticoid. They found that levels of this hormone were low following the attacks in New York and that levels began to increase as maritime traffic gradually returned.

In my search for what other things can be found in whale poop, I came across some interesting items. It is an important source of nitrogen and, as such, helps phytoplankton grow therefore benefiting the whole food chain. It also apparently helps to remove carbon from the environment thereby helping to reduce greenhouse gases. Who knew whale poo could be so beneficial? What I found even more surprising though, was that there is a market for whale poop. People will actually search beaches for traces of ambergris (photo below), which is a component of sperm whale poop that has been used to make expensive perfumes and even a mince pie. Ew.


Discovery News

Ambergis: Huffington Post

Phytoplankton: PLoS One

Greenhouse gases:
Discovery News

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